Structured and Intentional Practice!

Cornell Writes! Tips from our community of writers is a digital newsletter sponsored by the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines and the Cornell University Graduate School.

Each week, a member of our writing community – a Graduate Writing ServiceEnglish Language Support Office, or Cornell Writing Centers tutor; a writing specialist from the Knight Institute; a writing instructor from our First-Year Writing Seminars or Writing in the Majors programs; maybe YOU – will share a writing strategy from their own writer’s toolkit. #writelikeabear

Contact Tracy Hamler Carrick with questions and ideas.

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Meet Tracy Carrick

Hello Cornell writers! My name is Tracy Carrick. I’m a writing teacher, writing tutor, and director of the Knight Institute’s Writing Workshop and Graduate Writing Service. I am also a writer and editor. Right now, I am writing course materials and a professional dossier, and editing students’ personal essays. I hope to see you on Thursdays from 9:30am - 11:00am during the Big Red Barn’s Write-Ins. 

Here is this week’s Writing Tip!

Some days, I need more than a strong cup of coffee to get myself ready to write. Here are some reliable strategies that I use to give myself a boost and help me keep reaching toward the kinds of intellectual vigor I know I am capable of.

Below, I describe the The Pomodoro Technique and the SMART Goals Strategy, two techniques that provide formal guidance and give me concrete ways to train – and retrain – my body and mind to get work done. Pomodoros help me plan and reward focused writing time and SMART goals help me build writing projects with incremental, achievable, and specific short-term tasks. 

Call them productivity and time management strategies, if you like, but I see them as fitness workouts for my brain. Structured and intentional practice doesn’t just help me build ideas and muscle; it also reflects my sincere desire to show up for myself.



  • Set restrictive time limits and accept rewards

    • I started drafting this piece by spending about an hour collecting the reference tools linked here and dumping them into a document. For some, this work can take place over intermittent periods. In my case, I devoted a single one-hour session to the work. 

    • My reward was simple: words on the page!

    • Next, I used The Most Dangerous Writing App 🖊️ as a way to get started writing. This 5-minute challenge helped me get focused and collect key concepts and sort out my ideas. 

    • In this case, my reward was success! I typed my way through the 5-minute session without my screen exploding. I was able to save my words and paste them into my working document.

    • Then I used the Forest App THREE times to develop drafts. The first 25-minute countdown clock pushed me to get a complete, though rough draft (see more below: Set restrictive word limits). 

    • I rewarded myself with a short break (to refill my coffee and pet my cat). 

    • Before beginning a second 25-minute session, I took 5 minutes to review my draft and noted some revision ideas so that when I started the countdown clock, I was prepared to limit my revision work to 1 or 2 priorities. (In my case, I asked myself where I needed to add more or omit details, and how I might reorganize.)  

    • My reward after this achievement was to enter my work on my activity log to reach the end of a full page of progress!

    • After a third 25-minute session for proofreading and wordsmithing (see more below: Focus attention on specific words/phrases), which I completed early, I was ready for rewards: I planted my in-app trees 🌳 in my personal virtual forest; I earned in-App coins that will eventually enable me to plant a tree IRL (in real life) with Forest App's partner non-profit organization Trees for the Future; and I ate a few spoonfuls of strawberry ice cream before taking my dog for a walk!

  • Set restrictive word limits

    • To develop my first draft, I set myself a restrictive word limit, in this case, a 500-word first draft with a beginning, middle, and end, that pushed me to direct my time to my most important points.

  • Focus attention on specific words/phrases

    • As I readied myself for my second draft, I searched for repetition. I looked for repeated words/phrases and considered when I used them a lot and/or in the same way each time. I then asked myself: 1) How might the repetition create opportunities for me to rewrite with different language that might better illuminate or clarify my ideas? and/or 2) How might I intentionally build repetition into my design plan and use repetition even more to draw attention to my ideas?

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